JP title: ちゅーそつ! 1st graduation ~ちゅーそつのTime After Time~
Chuusotsu is a game that ropes you in with cute girls and quirky humor, then pats you on the back, gives you a confident smile, and leaves you with a strong message about life and dreams.
Note: Expect some spoilers about the setting, themes, etc.
Despite the happy-go-lucky opening, Chuusotsu actually takes place in a world I’d probably describe as a utopian dystopia, and uses it as a backdrop to tell a tale about a young girl, Marisugawa Arue, and her struggles in finding herself.
It’s not a particularly long VN, and there are no choices either, but that doesn’t stop it from being ホーリーファッキン good, mixing comedy and quirkiness with a story that actually tackles some really important questions about society, life, human relationships, motivation, and a whole array of things, resulting in an experience that I imagine (and hope) will deeply resonate with a number of readers.
Arue is hopelessly in love with manga, but this obsession of hers is viewed as harmful — both to herself and the world at large. Every time she makes an effort to be a good citizen, to continue with her studies and earn herself a well-paying government job, she finds herself overcome by her love for manga. Why? Because it’s the one thing that makes her feel truly alive, even if it essentially gets her branded as dead weight in the eye of society. So the VN is primarily about her, an apparent loser in the game of life with no education beyond middle school (a “Chuusotsu”) and seemingly no redeeming qualities whatsoever, hoping to make a comeback. Entering a program that will let her re-take her exams and get her life back on track, she meets two other girls in a similar situation (Arara and Koiro), and the three of them set out to find the answer to a puzzling philosophical question: what makes a wonderful life?
In Chuusotsu’s world, everyone gets a job — a role — determined for them by the government and a special seal that grants each person the necessary mental or physical abilities to excel at that job. Arue lacks such a seal, which means she enjoys no specials boosts and is therefore situated at the very bottom of the societal ladder. But what about those with a seal? Although they may indeed excel at their given profession, it doesn’t necessarily mean this will make them feel happy and fulfilled, right? Hell, is that job really what they want to do? Indeed, the VN, in one of its more shocking revelations, shines light upon the dark underbelly of a society where this system is taken to the absolute extreme. In that sense, the futuristic setting (with its various seals and nanomachines and whatnot) very much follows the VN’s overall theme of “cute and wacky until you actually start thinking about it a bit more and realize how fucked up things can be”, especially when it finally lays bare the world’s repulsive filling beneath the sugary, pseudo-utopian frosting. Chuusotsu talks about people living in a system that wants to create a “perfect”, orderly society at the cost of trampling over living, feeling individuals and their potential dreams.
In terms of the overall plot, Arue takes center stage as the protagonist: it’s her past and her inner turmoil you’ll come to witness the most. This, of course, doesn’t mean the other girls don’t have their own moments. I had a particularly soft spot for Koiro (and her heart of gold) for being the source of some of the VN’s most heartfelt lines. The girls are all flawed, relatable characters that feel wonderfully human with issues that reflect our own. At least for someone like me, who, for a significant chunk of his earlier life, looked at the future as a big fat question mark and experienced many of the same feelings Arue did, seeing her conflict most certainly hit close to home.
It’s worth noting, though, that this is pretty much just the first chapter of a larger story, so don’t expect everything to be all neatly wrapped up. The game even ends on a “to be continued” message.
Here’s a question: do we wallow in despair or choose, instead, to live our lives the way we truly want to? After all, it’s up to us to decide what makes a wonderful life; to take a first, decisive step and follow it up with a thousand more. And though we don’t necessarily know where our chosen road may take us, the important part is not being afraid to take that initial step in the first place. To find your place in the world and be able to accept yourself for who you are instead of striving to become someone others want you to be. To muster the courage to chase your dreams and be yourself even in the face of relentless societal pressure — Chuusotsu is a celebration of this all-too-evident but nonetheless immensely important aspect of the human condition.